There’s small choice in rotten apples

I think that over the years, I have become moderately digitally proficient -I can copy and paste; I can put those little dot things above naïve; and by looking for spelling errors in the request I can sometimes even recognize scam invitations to download prizes I have apparently won. Still, I get tired of having to be constantly on the watch for trickery, tired of having to be the adult all the time.

And now that I’m retired, I thought I could relax a little and let the younger generation bear the weight for a change, but apparently we elders are prime targets in the digital age –big bullseyes at that, given our reputed naïveté.

Even at my age however, I refuse to accept a total surrender of my pride, and am happy to report that my Emailian vigilance is still largely intact. There are times, though, when I would be happy to delegate some of my hitherto vaunted authority. Nothing big, mind you- mostly token stuff whose details have slipped my mind anyway, or maybe information that has changed since I retired. It’s important to retain at least some vestiges of knowledge when talking to the kids, though; I live in fear of an assignation to the local Old People’s Supportive Residence Facility with its ubiquitous hand-rails along the corridors, and pre-cut meat for dinner.

It was with these disturbing worries in mind that I went shopping (alone) the other day for a digital assistant. I wasn’t at all certain what they looked like, and decided to limit my enquiries to mature-looking female sales clerks in the tech store that my son had recommended in my neighbourhood; I thought that older females might be sympathetic to my hapless credulity.

I immediately centered in on a sixtyish woman busy fingering some unidentifiable objects on a shelf near the entrance. I thought I’d play on her sympathy with the Age card and asked her if she knew much about digital assistants.

I must have startled her because before she looked up from her chores, her face immediately wrinkled and her eyes darted about the shelf while she rearranged some of its contents. Then she glanced at me and realized I was just an old man seeking information and composed herself enough to look me in the eye.

“What would you like to know about them?” she said, looking increasingly relaxed as she assessed me more carefully.

To tell the truth, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to know about them. I just knew that whatever I asked, it was going to sound Old; I had never thought there was much use for a digital assistant. I didn’t like the idea of a disembodied voice –Siri came to mind- listening as if it were a dog just waiting for me to reach for the leash. Frankly, I wanted to be the one in control of my life; I am already forced to delegate too much of it for my liking. Too many choices are already being made without my express consent; too many alterations have happened to products I’ve grown to like because somebody figured a change would appeal to a newer, younger market or something. A digital assistant would know all those things, though; it would make other –better- suggestions, maybe. It would be sensitive to my pride…

But I don’t like ordering people around as if they were servants, and I’d feel especially guilty ordering around women like Siri. If I’d ever tried that with my mother I’d have been relegated to foster care, so I began to have second thoughts…

“Ahh, well… What can they do?” I thought that was a fairly good way to start: the humility of Age expressing doubts.

She pulled back her eyes that had been scanning the shelf, and sent them over to examine my face more carefully, as if she felt sorry for me, or something. Maybe she was thinking of her own father when she asked me gently, “Do you have a cell phone?”

I immediately reached into my pocket and pulled out my iPhone and showed her. I felt like a kid showing off a toy.

She examined it for a moment and then smiled at me. “You realize that most smartphones already have a digital assistant in them don’t you?” She sighed sympathetically. “And this one’s…” she looked at it again, “… It’s an 11, so it’s got a Siri…”

It was my turn to examine her. I was beginning to feel a little embarrassed. “I, uhmm…” Actually, I’d forgotten about what was in the phone, and only the clerk in the phone store where I’d bought it had ever turned my assistant on. Anyway, its voice reminded me too much of a girl I used to date. A thought occurred to me. Maybe if I could make it use a different voice -a man’s voice, or something, I’d feel less -what?- guilty…? “Do you get your choice of sex…?” I asked with an earnest expression on my face.

“What???” I’m sure I heard her use three question marks as the blood rose in her cheeks. She seemed shocked at my question.

“It’s just that I’d rather hear a male Siri…” I hesitated, uncertain of what the masculine version of the name Siri would be.

She rolled her eyes at me and an understanding smile appeared on her lips -this time a big one. “Apple lets you choose the voice now,” she said, almost apologetically . “And you could always Google whatever question you wanted to ask if it’s complicated,” she continued, shaking her head slowly while she started looking around the store. She was the only person I could see, so I wondered if she was looking for any other customers she could help when she’d finished with me.

But then I suddenly had an Elder-thought: “You’re being honest and trying not to sell me something I don’t need, aren’t you?” I smiled, unexpectedly overcome with her integrity. “I really appreciate that, you know…” You get emotional at my age, and I could feel the tears starting.

Her whole face brightened even further. She’d obviously had a good father to turn out the way she had. “I’d hate to take advantage of you, sir,” she said, her eyes busy looking around her again before she resumed her chores of sorting out the merchandise on the shelf and putting some in a little box on the floor. She was obviously the manager, and I was about to tell her that I’d be sure to come back here if I ever needed some new technology when a loud male voice boomed from a doorway behind the counter.

“Alice,” it yelled, obviously annoyed, “I told you I’d call the police if I ever saw you in here again, so out you go…!” A small, balding, angry man wearing a green tee-shirt and jeans came storming through a gate in the counter, as she bolted for the door. He waited until she’d left the store and then smiled almost toadily at me.

“Sorry, sir. She’s been shoplifting in here recently.” He stared at the box on the floor and sighed as he replaced the items it contained back on the shelf. “How can I help you?”

“Just browsing, thanks. And anyway that lady Alice was very helpful; she answered all my questions… There was nobody else here,” I added, hoping to shame him as I turned and headed for the door.

“We’ve got some sales that might interest you, sir,” he shouted, trying to catch me before I left.

“I’ll ask Siri about them,” I yelled over my shoulder as I made it, happily unburdened, to the sidewalk outside.


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